WSJ: Council on Foreign Relations Endorses School Choice

The Wall Street Journal reports on another establishment institution that has broken with the teachers union and endorsed school choice.  Here’s a taste:

The Council on Foreign Relations is the clubhouse of America’s establishment, a land of pinstripe suits and typically polite, status-quo thinking. Yet today CFR will publish a report that examines the national-security impact of America’s broken education system—and prescribes school choice as a primary antidote. Do you believe in miracles?…

The military can’t tap the 25% of American kids who drop out of high school, and 30% of those who graduate can’t pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery. In Afghanistan, according to one report cited by CFR, 33 of 45 U.S. officers in positions requiring foreign-language skills weren’t proficient by State Department standards.

The good news is that this grim data is helping to change the education debate, moving away from the dogma that fixing schools requires more money. Even excluding teacher pensions and other benefits, per-pupil spending today is more than three times what it was in 1960 (in 2008 dollars).

The CFR reports says this “suggests a misallocation of resources and a lack of productivity-enhancing innovations. . . . U.S. elementary and secondary schools are not organized to promote competition, choice, and innovation—the factors that catalyze success in other U.S. sectors.”

Spoken like Milton Friedman, but now endorsed by a Council task force led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chief Joel Klein, who is an education executive at News Corp., which owns this newspaper. The authors also include former Fortune 500 executives, leading researchers, and even Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers….

Five members out of 30—including Ms. Weingarten, no surprise—offer dissenting views with familiar complaints that charter schools can’t grow “to scale” and that private vouchers undermine the ethos of common schooling. As if failing public schools don’t undermine far more.

But the real story is how much progress the reform movement has made when pillars of the establishment are willing to endorse a choice movement that would have been too controversial even a few years ago.

27 Responses to WSJ: Council on Foreign Relations Endorses School Choice

  1. Now I’m worried. As one who’s always supported school choice, it concerns me when the CFR endorses this reform effort.

    This IS a red flag!

  2. George Mitchell says:

    Is the choice glass half-full or half-empty? Developments such as this clearly are positive. However, sooner or later there has to be a discussion about creating choice programs that encourage expansion of successful existing schools and creation of new schools. The financial infrastructure — no matter how tedious or dull a topic it might be — of the current voucher and charter world is simply inadequate to produce enough schools that will make a difference. Many of the highest performing schools rely on direct and indirect subsidies that are unavailable to those wanting to start new schools. Efforts to replicate and build on current success stories require a per pupil level of public financial support that is notably higher than provided by current programs. It would still be a fraction of traditional K-12 public spending. But it must grow.

  3. stlgretchen says:

    This isn’t surprising. WSJ jumps from one organized group (teacher unions) to another group (investors backed by the government). It’s school “choice” BUT it is not educational “choice”.

    This choice (charters) formed by for profit corporations and the DOEd will only allow the choice of school buildings. The standards and assessments will remain the same as traditional public school. That’s the “beauty” (or tragedy, if you are a constitutionalist) of common core standards that we are reminded again and again are state led….but are federally funded. Strings attached? You bet.

    It’s a sham. It’s the educational version of Solyndra. Use government money to prop up private investors. Don’t allow these “choice” schools to use their “choice” standards/assessments…no, that educational “choice” has been taken away. What kind of “choice” is that for parents? The child is still in a public school with public school mandates.

    This is all about money, pure and simple.

    How many programs have come through with billions of dollars wasted since ESEA was implemented? Have they really improved education? Nope. Student scores have flatlined for four decades. It’s not just the teacher unions squashing educational growth. It’s parental disinterest, lack of discipline in school, poor educational content, cultural issues, kids who won’t/can’t learn, political correctness. You can add your own thoughts on the reasons schools fail. But this multi-million lobbying effort won’t seriously reform education. It will just be the latest bubble created by the DOEd that Rhee, Gates, Murdoch and other “choicers” will ride until it finally bursts.

  4. allen says:

    Oh please George, “efforts to replicate and build on current success stories” don’t require a nickel more then the current funding levels and if the marvelous magic of free enterprise isn’t stymied by government interference will require less funding for better results.

    When mommies and daddies are in charge of the continued existence of schools, as they are in a “choice” environment, the simplification of the environment to that of educating the child and keeping them safe means less in the way of resources will be devoted to funding politically-motivated expenditures or comfortable anachronisms. If it doesn’t contribute to the organization’s goals, as defined by parents via their decision to patronize the school, then it’s automatically on the chopping block with the only decision remaining being when to let the axe fall.

    Schools that do well enough at keeping kids safe and exceptionally well at educating them result in either the school operator expanding their operation to a second school or some competitor taking a very hard look at the successful school and trying very hard to duplicate their success. Is there some reason why either option necessitates increases in funding?

    • George Mitchell says:


      Perhaps I was unclear. I observed that while funding for choice and charters needs to grow, on a per pupil basis “it would still be a fraction of traditional K-12 public spending.” By no means do I believe the traditional K-12 funding maw is being shortchanged.

      As for stlgretchen, hard to know where to begin.

      • stlgretchen says:

        And why is that, George? What have I said that is not factual?

      • George Mitchell says:


        I can’t figure out what you are saying, much less whether it’s factual.

      • stlgretchen says:

        One more time. The school ‘reform’ only reforms the delivery of the education, not the content of the education. Big difference.

        The reform transfers the power of educational decisions to private companies and out of the hands of the unions. The power has not been transferred to the parents to make authentic educational choice. The only choice they have is changing the school building…the educational content remains the same. Charters operate under the same mandates (common core) as traditional public schools.

        Perhaps this will help you understand the fallacy of choice offered to parents and taxpayers:

      • allen says:

        I’m with George, stigretchen. It’s not all that clear whether you’re a “we don’t need no steenkin’ government schools” libertarian or supporter of the current system trying to wrap yourself in a libertarian cloak. If I were forced to guess I’d say the former but there’s enough ambiguity in your comments to still make it either.

        George, if choice schools – charters or voucher-accepting schools – are doing an acceptable job at current funding levels, and they are judging from their acceptance by parents, what reason could there be to increase funding?

        Currently we have the convenient myth enacted into law that a lousy school, to which parents *don’t* want to send their kids, ought to get more funding so it can become a better school and you’re proposing that schools that are doing a good enough job to get parents to stand in line to enroll their kids also ought to get a funding increase. Is there any circumstance in which funding ought to be reduced?

        Oh, and with regard to the CFR, somewhere, some country’s leadership is going to realize that the cost of a public education system’s not worth the price and the opportunity to indoctrinate kids doesn’t cover the balance. I don’t have a clue which country that might be but the diminishing faith in government-supplied solutions and the rapidly increasing sophistication and reach of phenomena such as Khan Academy will, somewhere and somewhen, intersect resulting in the abandonment of the public education system in some nation.

      • stlgretchen says:

        Oh Allen. You hit the nail on the head. It’s interesting not to be able to determine exactly where I stand, isn’t it? I believe I’m actually talking about how PUBLIC schools should operate, and how they have no PUBLIC input, save for taxpayer money and the children the taxpayers provide to prop up a failed system.

        I could give a whit about political affiliations. Both parties have sold out PUBLIC schools in their own manner and have now joined to take over the PUBLIC in public schools under the label of providing services to public schools. Basically my argument is, if you are going to provide public schools with public money, then the public should have some input in how that public system operates. Pretty radical concept, eh?

        Much attention has been focused on school choice. If the emphasis will be to open more charters, then folks should be asking, what makes charters successful (and there is a debate on the majority being successful). If it is discipline, requiring real parental involvement, and students, parents and charters signing a contract of expectation with each other, then why hasn’t that been done in the traditional public school?

        If a child/parent doesn’t want to do this, then the student is transferred to an alternative or charter school. Why are we punishing the kids who want to learn, make them apply for what they believe is better delivery of education (I still quibble with the quality of the education), limit the numbers and cause hysteria? What do we do in the rest of society? If they misbehave or break the law, we shun them (or at least used to) or remove them from the law abiding citizens. This charter school idea is twisted. The charter schools should be taking those kids who are the troublemakers and leave the other children in the neighborhood schools.

        But then there is the argument that the traditional schools have the worst teachers. Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s not. All teachers, even in “wonderful” schools find if very difficult to teach students like children need to be taught. I have heard from teachers pre-NCLB and the good teachers produced good students. They had the freedom to tailor teaching to the needs of their students. With NCLB and its evil sisters RTTT and Common Core standards, it is teaching to the test and protecting the system, not teaching to students.

        If the goal is to graduate kids who parrot information the assessments want them to know (which btw are crafted by private companies unaccountable to taxpayers), this is a great system! If, however, we are to believe Duncan and think this will make kids STEM ready, we are more ignorant than ever. NCLB created a terrible system and these “new” reforms will not help teachers, students, etc. It helps the bureaucrats and ensures creativity and individuality will become non-existent.

        Allen, you write: “the rapidly increasing sophistication and reach of phenomena such as Khan Academy will, somewhere and somewhen, intersect resulting in the abandonment of the public education system in some nation.”

        You are correct! Parents will walk away in droves from public schools. Why shouldn’t they? They have NO voice for the tax dollars they are mandated to pay. I was in that same situation many years ago in one of “the best” school districts in the Midwest. I have a child, now a successful adult, who needed different services than the district was offering. These alternative methods of education were proven to work and would allow him to become more independent in the future, however, the bureaucrats would “allow” it or do it. So off to private school for 5 years (which required a relocation in cities) in which he did well (probably the best 5 years of his grade 1-12 experience) and then could mainstream. Don’t tell me it would have been better at a charter school. It would have been with different teachers, but with the same curriculum and blueprint. That’s my point. If it’s the same educational content, the delivery doesn’t make any difference. You still have the same product.

        How many parents hate fuzzy math? It doesn’t give the child a strong math foundation to become STEM ready. Go to a public school (many have in a particular school in the STL area) and complain. What does the school do? Nothing. Keeps on with a failed program. Maybe common core will force it to change, but what happens when the common core standards are flawed? What then?

        Regardless if you have local/consortia controlled schools, it is clear parents aren’t welcomed. The system needs their dollars and students, their input, not so much. If taxpayers want their money to go to their authentic choice, then their taxes should be applied to vouchers. A choice implies a decision made by the buyer. That decision should include WHAT the school teachers content wise. If a parent doesn’t like what an authentic private (not charter) school teaches, that parent can make suggestions or take the child out. The PRIVATE school can be nimble and innovative. The charter cannot.

        The public school system cannot sustain itself with the incredible amount of federal control and mandates. It will implode and it will be interesting how parents will educate their children. And in the end, it is the parent’s ultimate responsibility to educate their children and impart values, not the state. Parents/taxpayers need to understand the system protects the system, not the children. Only when parents can have authentic participation in a system will it have a chance of succeeding. I would offer that is why the growth in home schooling has occurred.

        Parents/taxpayers have been frozen out of the “public” system. I don’t even know that “public” means in public education any longer. It doesn’t serve the public very well and the public doesn’t have any input into the system that’s allegedly set up to provide benefit for their children. Sounds like a typical governmental agency, doesn’t it?

      • allen says:

        For what it’s worth stigretchen, you even put my prolixity to shame. Also, no, it’s not interesting. It’s annoying. Stake out your position. Ambiguity may be fun in a novel or a movie but it isn’t when it comes to public policy.

        Next in line, yeah, you do care a lot about political affiliations. They determine the outcomes of elections which determines the direction of public policy. Like that which a school board is elected to determine. So the public has input every time there’s an election. The problem is that the democratic process is inherently inefficient under the best of circumstances. That shows up in school board elections because there are constituencies who don’t give a fig about the kids or education and see the public education system as a cash cow to be milked as fast and as much as possible. Those folks’ views end up being disproportionately represented due to the political nature of public education. So strike two. Public input isn’t a radical idea, it’s part of the current system.

        No kid is transfered to charters. They’re independent of districts so districts have no power to force kids on charters. “Alternative” schools are the newer, friendlier, more politically-correct name for what were once called reform schools and while school districts have no institutional incentive to educate average kids they do an even poorer job with kids that have problems.

        What charters should or shouldn’t be doing is none of your concern. It’s the business of the people who open/run them and that’s where the responsibility ought to be. Parents can decide whether they like how a particular charter is run or not, as they choose, but third parties who have no immediate stake in the operation of the school have no good, educationally-relevant reason to mix in. They may have the power, and thus feel entitled to engage in a bit of dictatorial activity, but they’re unlikely to create a better result then the people who started/run the school. Certainly they won’t have as urgent an interest in making the school a success.

        Next up, don’t misrepresent what I wrote. Technology *will* have a profound effect on education but that future isn’t here yet and it may, probably will, arrive somewhere other then the United States first.

        Parents won’t walk away in droves if the law mandates that they can’t so the law has to change to accommodate the possibilities embedded in the technology. When the law does change, as it’s in the process of doing, then we’ll see institutions arise based on the content of that law. But that’ll be a stepwise process and the smallest, easiest-to-take step, is charters. Their crucial quality is that, like private schools, they’re dependent on parental choice and it’s not all that apparent to me that vouchers will provide greater choice. Inevitably there’ll be an encroachment by regulation on voucher-accepting schools since there is a legitimate case to be made for accountability for public funds. Whether that encroachment becomes unacceptable will have to wait until there’s a lot more in the way of voucher programs.

        Also with regard to the CFR, why is there some ominous portent in the members thereof offering up an opinion on matters of the day? The CFR, contrary to overheated imagination, isn’t a shadow government. The CFR may have more influence over the course of this nation then you or I but ultimately the CFR only proposes and it’s the electorate that disposes.

      • stlgretchen says:

        OMG. You write:

        “What charters should or shouldn’t be doing is none of your concern. It’s the business of the people who open/run them and that’s where the responsibility ought to be. Parents can decide whether they like how a particular charter is run or not, as they choose, but third parties who have no immediate stake in the operation of the school have no good, educationally-relevant reason to mix in. They may have the power, and thus feel entitled to engage in a bit of dictatorial activity, but they’re unlikely to create a better result then the people who started/run the school. Certainly they won’t have as urgent an interest in making the school a success.”

        You ARE an elitist, aren’t you? Unless you have forgotten, charters are PUBLICLY funded. They certainly ARE a concern of the taxpayers. Just who do you think you are? Are you allowed to give taxpayer money to private operators to let them operate in any way they think is appropriate and the it’s none of the public’s business? Sounds like Solyndra! The government uses our money for private investing, the money is wasted on a failed project and the public shouldn’t be concerned and has no immediate stake in how that money was used?

        Total arrogance. I believe you are the dictator in this argument. PRIVATE schools have no public scrutiny and they should not as they are PRIVATELY funded by PRIVATE money. Charters are not privately funded, just privately managed. Big difference.

        School Boards? Useless. All they can do now is hire teachers and maintain buildings. NCLB, RTTT, Common Core have rendered them impotent.

        It doesn’t matter about political affiliation any more so don’t try that tactic. The Dems and Republicans are behind this as noted in my previous link. It’s the party of elitists, of which you have exposed yourself to belong to, that is running this show.

        The issue that you refuse to address is that education is quickly becoming nationalized. You are supporting gift wrapping public education via charters or trigger options to make parents think they are getting something different. Good try but sorry, it’s still public education with the same content.

        McCluskey writes: “The trigger, quite simply, is no substitute for real educational freedom: giving parents control of education funds, giving educators freedom to establish myriad options, and letting freedom, competition and specialization rein.”

        Substitute the word “charter” and you have the same argument. It’s not competition if you have the same educational content. If charters were allowed to operate as they were originally intended to do, there may some validity in what you write. As they currently operate in my state, they are bound by the same mandates as traditional public schools and have been no more successful than those traditional models.

      • allen says:

        Elitist? Yes, your brilliance has unmasked me. I am burdened with the unsupported belief that I’m better then those around me.

        Oh drat! How could I have been so easily found out!

        Perhaps I’m not the weighty intellect I’m ever so sure I must be? No! No! That can’t be true!!!

        Anyhow, thanks. I now understand you as well.

  5. Sandra says:

    I understand stlgretchen perfectly. Public charters are public schools and required to observe the same mandates. Testing regimes and outcomes legislated under NCLB failed. The solution? Under Race to the Top, more standardized testing and more test-centric education, directed from the nation’s Capitol and the State’s DOE, undercutting local control. These facts are readily available on the consortia and government websites. Hard to imagine that Mr. Mitchell is unaware.

    No surprise the military has difficulty finding personnel who speak other languages. It is one important piece of education that has literally been squeezed out.

    Under these conditions, charter schools merely change the deck chairs. There is plenty of evidence to predict whatbthe outcome will be.

  6. grumpyelder says:

    “When mommies and daddies are in charge”

    American schools reached their highest levels of performance just in the late 50’s and early 60’s when parents were in charge of their local system. With the creation of the Department of Education Parental Influence has declined steadily as the influence of educational experts, political correctness and a few other things have grown–

    Get the Federal Government, the experts– the unions, unfunded state mandates, billions of dollars worth of compliance reporting and whatever replaced Kevin Jennings to promote “All” kinds of political correctness out of the way and give control back to the parents–

    Let them restore discipline, expel kids that disrupt the system and decide what should be taught, allow them to accept the fact that not all kids are college-or even high school academic material–

    It’s funny how quick a little on the job training will teach a kid the basic math he needs to do a job– if the job interests him. If a kids willing to work hard and has the basic aptitudes he can drop out of school and by the time he’s 22 be earning as much as a teacher with 10 or 15 years experience– without any college debt.

    I bumped into a guy a few years ago that I hadn’t seen since high school- He was considered stupid-even by the other kids, When I bumped into him he was installing replacement windows,getting paid on piece work. He was working every day, sometimes 6-7 days a week. and making $40 a window, with one $10,hr helper he was averaging 12-15 windows a day.. do the math

    He didn’t owe a cent on the 40 grand truck he was driving…

    • mmazenko says:

      You’re ignoring the property right to education that has allowed so many “students who disrupt the system” to stay. That coupled with the college-for-all mentality has degraded the classroom. There wasn’t a time when mommies and daddies ran the school – though there was a time when they had more expectations for their children and made fewer excuses for them. The idea that millions of helpless parents who seek the best for their children are out there struggling against schools that don’t care is absurd. Granted, some schools need to do better by their students. But, to ignore parental negligence as a factor in school excellence – or lack thereof – is naive.

  7. allen says:

    Ah yes, the golden age of American public education – the late 50’s and early 60’s. You might want to hop into your way-back machine and let the parents, and tax-payers, of the era know how good they’ve got it. They didn’t seem to think so.

    The first major wave of throwing money at public education came in response to Sputnik and the perception that we weren’t turning out enough scientists and engineers.

    But if you dig into the history of public education, and God you have to be a pretty pathetic individual to do that voluntarily, you discover that the there’s never been much of an institutional connection between organizational outcomes – how good the schools actually were – and the reputations of their management.

    Parents were very concerned about the quality of the schools but those that ran the schools, and especially those that philosophized about how education ought to occur, were much less concerned about objectively measurable educational quality.

    That’s why kids who are disruptive aren’t booted out; if they don’t rise to the level of a problem for the administration then they’re not a problem worth dealing with. Let the teacher deal with those kids and if they disrupt the education of other kids, so what? That “local control” you seem to think is such peachy idea guarantees that parental control is diluted by political constituencies which give not a fig for how good or safe the schools might be.

    • mmazenko says:

      Valid point, Allen. Far too many critics of public education – especially of how it’s getting worse – seem to forget that Rudolph Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read” was published in 1951. And at that time, graduation rates were much lower. And, of course A Nation at Risk came in 1983. And, these days the explosion of AP classes in high schools certainly challenges the notion that schools are somehow getting worse. The bottom 30% are for sure. But the top 30% are better than they’ve ever been, and they are tops in the world in terms of test scores.

    • PhillipMarlowe says:

      The Golden Age of American education did not exist for African Americans, but that doesn’t bother too many like Mr. Greene

      • I don’t ever remember claiming that there was a golden age in education or that things have not improved for African American students. In fact, I remember explicitly arguing that there has been considerable progress for black students (see ).

        On this blog you can’t just libel people. You actually need to back up your accusations with evidence. If you are ever going to post a comment on this blog again you had better do that.

      • Greg Forster says:

        When I first took a job under Jay, he laid out what he thought were the most important things to understand about education. One of them was “there was no golden age.” I remember him using those words exactly on many occasions.

        In fact, in our Education Myths book one of the myths we debunked was “The Myth of Decline.”

        But finding out whether Jay actually said something before denouncing him for saying it doesn’t bother too many of his critics.

  8. stlgretchen says:

    Oops. Why, I neglected to insert an important adverb in my response to Allen.

    I wrote; “the bureaucrats would “allow” it or do it.”

    It should read: “the bureaucrats would NOT “allow” it or do it.”

    And this: “That decision should include WHAT the school teachers content wise.”….”teachers” should read “teaches”.

  9. […]   Jay P. Greene’s blog had an article about the WSJ bucking the teachers’ unions and siding with school choicers entitled WSJ: Council on Foreign Relations Endorses School Choice: […]

  10. […] Here’s the article in full: Jay P. Greene’s blog had an article about the WSJ bucking the teachers’ unions and siding with school choicers entitled WSJ: Council on Foreign Relations Endorses School Choice: […]

  11. […] WSJ: Council on Foreign Relations Endorses School Choice ( […]

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